By Bruce Rosenstein
April 8, 2002
Never mind Bill Gates, Jack Welch and other contemporary get-aheads for inspiration.
Consider, instead, the likes of Plato, Gandhi, Einstein and other geniuses, says Michael Gelb, a writer who believes in going to the all-time greats.
That’s the premise behind his newest book, Discover Your Genius: How to Think Like History’s Ten Most Revolutionary Minds. And it’s one of the best recent examples of the business self-help genre, providing a thorough workout for the mind and soul.
It’s similar to his 1999 book How to Think Like Leonardo da Vinci — applying what made historical figures great to our own thinking. Even if we measure up in a tiny way to these giants, we’re better off than we were before.
Reading a Gelb book is an interactive experience. It’s not just the writing and thinking exercises. He also gives recipes and wine recommendations to get into the mood of, say, Renaissance Queen Elizabeth I. Aphrodisia Potatoes, for example, are basically mashed potatoes with truffle oil and a sprinkling of ground almonds.
And he loves to suggest the right music. A companion CD under the same title is available from Spring Hill Music.
“Each musical selection evokes a particular genius quality,” Gelb said in an interview. “For example, I chose Debussy’s La Mer in association with Columbus,” he said. If you read the chapter on Columbus and “listen to this music, you’ll experience the unforgettable sensation of being out at sea without sight of the shore, and you’ll gain the opportunity to deepen your empathy for this genius quality.”
In the chapter on Thomas Jefferson, Gelb writes: “Wine was a key element in ‘the pursuit of happiness.’ ” He recommends a Jeffersonian-style wine tasting, comparing wines from Jefferson’s Virginia and his beloved France. He even recommends specific wines, such as a white Viognier by Guigal in France and Horton in Virginia.
Leadership is made vivid in the chapter on Gandhi, a perfect example of how willpower and self-control can inspire others to do the seemingly impossible. Gandhi organized and energized Indians in ways never before with his philosophy of “satyagraha,” or peaceful resistance. This was a role model, Gelb points out, for “Gandhi’s spiritual heirs” — Martin Luther King Jr., Nelson Mandela and the Dalai Lama.
Gelb shows his own genius in making the past relevant by calling on top experts on his subjects. Thus, in his chapter on the Renaissance Italian architect and dome builder Filippo Brunelleschi, he uses Ross King, author of the best-seller Brunelleschi’s Dome. For Charles Darwin, he cites the Nobel-prize winning biologist and author Edward O. Wilson.
Besides his own research, he has called on a “genius board” of advisers including British and American professors. And his book is handsomely designed, with excerpts of poetry from the likes of Keats and Whitman, and haunting portraits drawn by Norma Miller.
Gelb gives license for business people to dig deep within and find the things that give meaning to our lives, all under the tent of improving business and work skills. Someone who might find other self-help books too soft or touchy-feely will feel more comfortable and constructive here.
The book was written before Sept. 11, but in a recent interview, Gelb said, “I live on the water across from New York City, and I watched the towers fall from my balcony. In addition to focusing more on the importance of defending and cherishing our external freedoms, I believe most Americans are becoming more concerned with their inner freedom, as well.”